"But That Doesn't Follow!" The Elusive Inference in the Classroom
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communications and Arts
Truth is a wonderful thing, but it is only half of a good argument. Even if the premises are true, the inference must be a good one. But ordinary linguistic usage lacks a ready set of terms for talking about inferences. This point is especially relevant in schools. Teachers, I suggest, are handicapped by lack of a recognised vocabulary that will help us see and say “But that doesn’t follow!” Teachers that I have discussed this with have no shared name for the inference process, nor a shared language for the evaluation of inferences. As teachers, we need ways of making inferences come alive. This aim can be enhanced by practising some simple exercises. Choose a premise at random. Invent a conclusion. Now evaluate the inference, assuming the premise to be true. Is the inference a good one? If we disagree in our evaluations, why do we? Examples of this sort of exercise can arise in class discussion and in essay writing workshops. This is mental muscle-building, but it works only if we have a shared practice of argument. My purpose in this paper is to question whether we have such a practice.